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Cardinal Numbers


Mrs. Cardinal is dead:

All that remains—a beak of red,

And, fanned across the pavement slab,

Feathers, drab.


Remember how we saw her mate

In the magnolia tree of late,

Glowing, in the faded hour,

A scarlet flower,


And knew, from his nagging sound,

His wife foraged on the ground,

As camouflaged, as he (to us)



One of us remarked, with laughter,

It was her safety he looked after,

On the watch, from where he sat,

For dog or cat


(For being lately married we

Thought we had the monopoly,

Nor guessed a bird so glorious



Of course, the reason that birds flocked

To us:  we kept the feeder stocked.

And there are cats (why mince words)

Where there are birds.


A 'possum came when dusk was grey,

And so tidied the corpse away,

While Mr. Cardinal at dawn

Carried on,


As if to say, he doesn't blame us,

Our hospitality is famous.

If other birds still want to visit,

Whose fault is it?


Alicia E. Stallings


© Alicia E. Stallings.  From Archaic Smile,

University of Evansville Press; originally printed

in The Formalist; reprinted by permission of the


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